Back at the tree trunk we carefully counted ten rings from the centre and hammered in a nail. It was very difficult. The hammer point was too small and rounded and the straight pane too narrow for us to be able to hit a nail cleanly. In the end, after several missed strokes and barked fingers, we took to hitting with the flat side of the hammer and made some progress. Slowly the nails moved across the trunk at ten year intervals until there were twenty-three nails and three more rings outside. After a lot of discussion we agreed that this made 233 rings and that was the age of the tree.

It meant that this huge oak had first sprouted from its acorn in AD 1717, more than two centuries earlier. We looked it up in a history book and found that King George 1 had been on the throne. When we told Mother she said in an off-handed way,

"Yes. He was the first German. Never spoke a word of English you know."

This was one of those shocks that one remembers all one's life. A king of England who did not speak English and, more than that, a German! It was 1926 by now and we children had all those blind prejudices that young people absorb through their pores. Three years earlier, at my previous school, I had moved from the Infants to the Junior School. To celebrate, my Mother had bought me a satchel unlike any worn by any other child in the class. It was brown canvas, with short crossed straps so that it sat high up on the shoulder blades, instead of hanging by the hip like any respectable satchel.

I was horrified. "I can't wear that. It's German."

Mother did not try to persuade me, but went back to the shop and changed it. This was when Germany was trying to rescue her economy from its pit of despair by expanding exports. The Dawes Plan to rescue German children from starvation had only just been agreed, and here was one export being rejected by a boy who had to be like his friends. The Germans were still the enemy and suddenly I had discovered that a British king was German.

Felling continued until there were no trees left behind the houses and there was clear land as far as the field edge. All was stumps and devastation. The woods to the right were still there, but our original row of houses would never again look out on a greet forest: some of the romance was gone. Only the people of Barrenger Road, in the far corner of the Estate, were to have trees up to their back gardens for ever.

 

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